My sermon this week was based on Luke 17:5-10.
To download a podcast of my sermon, click here.
So this week I have to go ahead and disagree with Jesus. I totally get the point he is trying to make in this Gospel passage, and there are times when it is absolutely true, but there are also times when it is not.
I want to first address the question "Can we increase someone else's faith?" The Gospel begins with the brief Lukan version of the Parable of the Mustard Seed where the disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith, to which Jesus' response ("If you had faith the size of a mustard seed..."). This response implies to me that Jesus thinks his disciples have no faith at all.
How could Jesus possibly increase something that does not exist? Zero times any other number is still zero.
Jesus then adds a parable that seems like a non sequitur (and it may well be as many commentators believe this whole chapter of Luke is a series of more or less random reminiscences about Jesus on the part of the author rather than a coherent narrative), the Parable of the Master and the Servant.
The short and dirty interpretation of this Parable is this: don't expect to be thanked simply for doing your job.
This Parable frames what it was like to be a servant. Servants were expected to do their duties around the property, whether that was gardening, harvesting, tending sheep, etc. In the evenings, it was their job to come in from the fields and cook supper for their master, THEN they could eat and enjoy some leisure time.
What master, Jesus asks, would ask their servants to sit down after a day in the fields and cook supper for them before he himself had eaten? In other words, what master would thank his servants simply for doing what was expected of them?
None, that's who.
Jesus uses this Parable to make the point that his disciples and we as people of faith ought not expect thanks or rewards for doing what is expected of us. And what is expected of us? Simply to lead a good, moral and upright life.
We shouldn't expect thanks from the cops for following the speed limit or thanks from the government for paying our taxes, because that is what we are supposed to do. We should not expect thanks from our employer for doing our job because that is our job.
But here is where I have to disagree with Jesus. Yes, he's right, we should not expect thanks for simply doing our job, but with so much negativity in the world and with so little affirmation, with so many people lashing out at people under the guise of "constructive criticism" and with so few people letting others know that their efforts are appreciated, perhaps we ought to rethink this lesson.
Here is where the question that I opened with comes in: can we increase someone else's faith? I would say no, BUT we can create an atmosphere where someone's faith can grow.
For example, many of us who are in paid or volunteer positions in the church only hear feedback when we screw up or make a mistake. Very rarely do we hear random thanks or affirmations. No, we don't do what we do to receive thanks, but it is nice to hear that every once in while.
Let me give you a fictional scenario stitched together from actual comments I have heard in churches:
It is your first time at a new church. As you walk in the door, you overhear the greeters complaining that someone has worn jeans to church. The greeter hands you a bulletin and says, "There's usually a lot of mistakes, but you should be able to follow along". You take a pew and someone comes up and says, "That's actually Mr. and Mrs. X's seat, you should sit somewhere else, they go crazy if someone sits in the their seat". This person goes on to explain, "If you sit at the back, you won't hear the sour notes the choir hits, but you won't be able to understand the priest because he has a terrible accent".
Does this sound like the sort of place you would want to plant the root of your faith? Does that sound like a safe, positive, affirming environment in which to explore your faith? Does this sound like a place that is living the love and joy of God?
Obviously not. No faith could grow in such soil.
However, an environment that practices affirmation, positive feedback, that shows forth love, charity, forgiveness, peace and reconciliation is a place in which faith can actually be planted, be fed and watered, and that is the responsibility of the church.
Don't get me wrong, church is important and it deserves our best, even if we are just volunteers, however we should always remember that we are volunteers for the most part, and that what we do is an act of love and dedication to both our community and to God, and perhaps a little support would go further than criticism.
Today, I invite you to see the best that people have to offer, to see the effort that people are making and not the mistakes they make. See Christ and them and let them see Christ in you.